Visitors Guide to Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon is one of the unique and easy hikes in Banff National Park. You’ll walk across a well-maintained steel walkway suspended over Johnston Creek below through a limestone canyon, with scenic views of the Johnston Canyon falls and turquoise pools. The great thing is that you can make Johnston Canyon hike as short or long as you want. Either walk until the spectacular Johnston Canyon Upper Falls with 5.3 km (3.3 miles) in length, or only visit the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls at 1.1 km (0.7 miles) in length. Find in our complete guide all you need to know about the Johnston Canyon Hike. 

Where is Johnston Canyon hike?

Johnston Canyon is located in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. You can reach the Johnston Canyon parking by driving to the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. Make sure to allow some extra time exploring the Bow Valley Parkway as there are several beautiful viewpoints along the road. 

Reaching Johnston Canyon from Banff takes about 30 minutes of driving. Make sure to have your rental car as this is by far the easiest way to explore Banff National Park and the Icefields Parkway. 


Important note about seasonal road closures on the Bow Valley Parkway

Between May 1 to June 25 2024, and from September 1- October 1 2024 vehicles are restricted every day from 8 am to 8 pm on the Bow Valley Parkway between the Fireside Day-use Area and Johnston Canyon. 

The only way to reach Johnston Canyon parking during this period by car is via the Castle Junction exit off the Trans Canada Highway. Another option is to go by bicycle. 

Another evening & night closure along the Bow Valley Parkway to keep in mind is from March 1st to June 25th between 8 pm and 8 am. During this time, all forms of travel (vehicle, walking, and biking), is not allowed from the Johnston Canyon Campground to the Fireside Picnic Area (17km). The only way to reach Johnston Canyon parking during this time is via Castle Junction. Both closures are to ensure a high-quality living area for wildlife.

What is the best time to hike Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon Hike is a very popular trail in Banff and accessible year-round. It’s loved for its easy access and well-maintained trail. Therefore many travellers, families and locals come to visit Johnston Canyon each year. 

To avoid the crowds, make sure to arrive early to snag a parking spot. Also, in the shoulder season (September and October, winter months and April, May), Johnston Canyon is less busy than during the peak months in summer. 

Johnston Canyon Hike is also a great winter hike in Banff as you can then see the frozen waterfalls at the end! A true winter wonderland in Banff. 

We loved hiking Johnston Canyon on a cloudy, moody day in Banff. You don’t need the sunshine in Johnston Canyon for pictures, and the moody weather in Johnston Canyon actually creates a very scenic atmosphere. Therefore I think that Johnston Canyon is a great activity in Banff on a moody or even rainy day! 


Is Johnston Canyon busy?

Johnston Canyon can be extremely busy as it is one of the, if not the, most popular hike in Banff. Especially during the peak season from June until September you can expect the trail to be crowded. However, there are a few tricks to enjoy Johnston Canyon without the crowds. 

One of them is to arrive very early, best before 8 am, or hike later afternoon, early evening in the summer months, so around 6 pm. In peak season it is also highly recommended to go during the week instead of on weekends. Many locals from Calgary might go for a weekend trip to Banff, making the trails extra busy.  

Shoulder season is also a great way to avoid the crowds. As you can see on our pictures there were very few people around. We went on a moody day in early October, and we really enjoyed the autumn colors along the trail. The shoulder season months offer a more quiet experience while the peak months in summer are most likely very busy. The best way to avoid the crowds is always to go as early as possible, or later afternoon. 


How long does it take to hike Johnston Canyon?

On average, the round-trip to Johnston Lower Falls takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, while extending the hike to Johnston Upper Falls takes about 3 hours round trip on a slow pace. 

How hard is Johnston Canyon hike?

Johnston Canyon Hike is not a hard hike. It’s an easy to moderate walk with an elevation gain of 273 meters (898 ft) to the Upper Falls. If you only visit the Lower Falls the trail has an elevation gain of only 105 meters (344 ft). The walkway is very well-maintained and there are no technical parts along the hike. Therefore Johnston Canyon hike is a great family-friendly hike in Banff. 


Johnston Canyon Trail description 

After leaving the parking lot, you can’t miss the sign to Johnston Canyon Trailhead that takes you straight into the forest along Johnston Creek. On your left hand you will see the cabins of Johnston Canyon Lodge while a stunning forest unfolds. 


There is minimal elevation gain along this first part of the trail toward the Lower Johnston Falls. The paved forest path soon changes into the steel walkway suspending over Johnston Creek. From here you will have impressive views of the towering canyon walls. This makes the Johnston Canyon Trail so unique!


Johnston Canyon Lower Falls

At around 1.1 km into the hike, you will reach the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls. A bridge connects one side of the canyon with the other, so you can see the lower falls from different perspectives. 


There is also a short tunnel you can enter to get an even closer perspective of the Lower Falls! Here you can feel the spray of the rushing water, and the eroded canyon is a sight to behold.


Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

Continue up the canyon for another 1.7 km from the Lower Falls to reach the Upper Falls. You will pass several beautiful viewpoints to look down in the canyon and another smaller waterfall. The trail also passes along the towering limestone canyon walls which is truly impressive! This part of the hike does have the most elevation gain, but it’s nothing to worry about if you’re average fit. 


Upon reaching the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls you will hear the gushing water from afar. This is by far the most impressive one of the Johnston Canyon Falls with 30 meters in height. The first viewpoint leads to the bottom of the falls so you can really take in the height and power of this waterfall. 


The second viewpoint follows a steeper trail to the platform that hangs over the gorge. From here you can see the top of the Upper Falls gushing down the rocks into the natural pool below. There are also a few benches here which are a great way to give your legs some rest before returning the same way to the parking lot. 


Do you need bear spray for Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon Hike is a high-trafficked trail in Banff National Park. Therefore it is almost unlikely that you will encounter a bear along the trail, so it’s not a must to carry bear spray along the Johnston Canyon hike. However, it never hurts to carry bear spray, and we actually had it hanging on our backpacks as a standard and never took it off during our time hiking in the Canadian Rockies.

If you plan to hike to Moose Meadows or Ink Pots, it is recommended to bring bear spray as you’re on a less trafficked path. 

How long is Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

From the top of the Johnston Upper Falls you can continue the trail for another 3 km to the Ink Pots. This makes the total distance from Johnston Canyon Trailhead to the Ink Pots 11.3 km (7 miles) with 575 meters (1,889 ft) elevation gain.

I wouldn’t directly recommend extending the hike to the Ink Pots as there are far better and more impressive views to be seen in Banff. The Ink Pots are a collection of colorful, cold mineral springs that bubble to the surface in a beautiful open meadow, but that is really all there is to see. 

Maligne Canyon or Johnston Canyon?

If you are short on time and you are considering either visiting Johnston Canyon or Maligne Canyon, then I would advise Johnston Canyon over Maligne Canyon.  

The trail of Johnston Canyon is more developed and the complete experience is more fun in my opinion. Walking on the elevated steel walkways and passing the towering limestone cliffs really adds scale to the experience. The waterfalls of Johnston Canyon are also more impressive. 

Maligne Canyon on the other hand is a shorter hike and you walk above the canyon crack instead of through the canyon. On the other hand, Maligne Canyon might be a quieter and less crowded experience than Johnston Canyon. But I’m sure that if you plan it well, you can have a quiet and beautiful hike in Johnston Canyon as well. 

Johnston Canyon in winter 

If you’re visiting Banff in winter, then it is also possible to hike Johnston Canyon. You do need micro spikes to keep grip in snow or icy parts of the path, but you will be in for a treat to see the frozen Johnston waterfalls!

If you don’t have micro spikes yourself and you prefer hiking with a guide, then you can also book the Johnston Canyon icewalk. This 4-hour tour takes you to the beautiful frozen lower and upper waterfalls while your guide ensures your safety with the right gear and knowledge. You will learn how this majestic canyon was formed and round-trip transportation is included from Banff. 


Do you need a National Park Pass to hike Johnston Canyon?

Yes, because Johnston Canyon is located inside Banff National Park, you’ll need a Parks Canada Pass to enter. Depending on the number of days you plan to visit the Canadian National Parks, you can either buy single daily admission tickets or the Parks Canada Discovery Pass which is a multi-park entry pass for 365 days. You can purchase the different Parks Canada Passes online at the Parks Canada website, at the National Park Visitor Centres or at booths upon entering the many national parks. See all the options and prices below.  

Single daily admission pass

This entrance fee ticket is sold per person, per day, per National Park. It is only the best option if you are solo traveling and just visiting one or two national parks for a couple of days.

  • $10.50 CAD for an adult (from 18-64 years)
  • $9.00 CAD for Senior (65+)
  • FREE entrance for kids younger than 17 years

Group daily admission pass

For the ones traveling with 2 or more people in one car, you can buy a single-day group admission pass. This pass gives entrance for up to 7 people in one vehicle.

  • $21.00 CAD for one vehicle entry for one full day (maximum 7 people)

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is the best option for travelers who plan to visit multiple National Parks. Basically, if you’re spending more than 7 days in the Canadian National Parks, you’ll have a much better deal buying the Discovery Pass. This multi-park entry pass is valid for 365 days to access all participating national parks in Canada. These include Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and much more.

  • $72.25 CAD for one Adult (age 18-64)
  • $61.75 CAD for one Senior (64+)
  • $145.25 CAD for a couple or group/family up to 7 people in one vehicle

Where to stay near Johnston Canyon 

Banff and Lake Louise are both great options to stay near Johnston Canyon. However, if you like to stay in the area of the Bow Valley Parkway, which is quieter than the touristy Banff town and Lake Louise Village, then there are a few options. 

Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows 

Located near Johnston Canyon trailhead is the only Johnston Canyon resort. This rustic lodge has 42 cozy cottages with an on-site restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also operate the Black Swift Bistro and Market Cafe. Both are the only options to buy food along the Bow Valley Parkway! 

→ Check here prices and availability for Johnston Canyon bungalows

Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows

Johnston Canyon Campground 

Johnston Canyon Campground is a beautiful forested campground, perfect for campers wanting a more rustic and authentic camping experience. With 132 sites, flush toilets, showers, kitchen shelters, fire rings and firewood, Johnston Canyon Campground is a popular campground near Banff and often fully booked. The operating dates are from May 23 to September 22. Make your reservation in advance if you consider camping near Johnston Canyon.

Bow Valley Parkway resorts 

Castle Mountain Chalets

The rustic and charming chalets of Castle Mountain Chalets come with a fully equipped kitchen, private bathroom with shower and free toiletries. The stunning mountain views make it one of the best places to stay near Castle Mountain and strategically located between Lake Louise and Banff, with direct entry to Kootenay National Park. 

→ Check here prices and availability for Castle Mountain Chalets

Castle Mountain Chalets

Baker Creek by Basecamp

The spacious log cabins of Baker Creek offer comfortable living areas featuring a cosy fireplace. Full kitchens and kitchenettes are provided and there is even a fitness centre, steam room and a sauna during the winter months available!

→ Check here prices and availability for Baker Creek cabins

Baker Creek by Basecamp cabin

Places to stay in Lake Louise

Fairmont Château Lake Louise

Without a doubt, the most beautiful and unique accommodation in Lake Louise is the Fairmont, located along the lakeshore. If you want to stay somewhere special, then booking a room with Lakeview at Fairmont Château Lake Louise is the answer. With a heated indoor pool and a complete fitness center, 8 on-site dining options and a wine library you will feel like a king and queen in Fairmont Château Lake Louise. 

Fairmont Château Lake Louise room view

Lake Louise Inn

Lake Louise Inn is conveniently located in the center of Lake Louise Village. With standard double rooms, one-bedroom apartments studio’s and suites, Lake Louise Inn has plenty of choice for every kind of traveler. Most of the rooms have views of the surrounding mountains, and featuring a heated indoor pool and hot tubs, Lake Louise Inn offers great value for a fair price

Lake Louise Inn

Post Hotel and Spa

Idyllishly located along the Bow River, Post Hotel and Spa offers their guests spacious, rustic rooms and suites, alongside an indoor pool and a hot tub, a fitness center, free private parking, a restaurant and cozy bar.

Post Hotel & Spa

More Canada travel inspiration

I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about Johnston Canyon Hike in Banff National Park. For more travel inspiration about British Columbia and Alberta, head over to our other Canada travel guides. See below our Canada guides per National Park to prepare your trip.

Read here our incredibly extensive guide about RVing in Canada

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